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Tombeau de Maazel

When I awoke late Sunday morning the air in my room was curiously eerie and mass-less but at the same time it felt dense as if I was under water. The night before I fell asleep listening to Schubert's Unfinished and its opening still echoed in my head as I was getting ready. It took me a while to realize that the strangeness in the air is exactly what I feel whenever I hear the opening theme of the symphony. The music to me suggests anticipation of something uncertain. It is a vibrant vacuum that is about to pull in something and that something could be anything in the world. On the bottom of Schubert's three-level musical structure the basses echo the opening of Beethoven's 5th, calling upon the great composer whose persona and legacy had inspired him from a very young age. The recording I listened to was conducted by Lorin Maazel, a true maestro I adored all my life and whom I will miss tremendously, the news of his passing was released that very Sunday morning. 

Chatting with the Maestro after a performance of Puccini's Il Trittico in Castleton, VA, 2010

Chatting with the Maestro after a performance of Puccini's Il Trittico in Castleton, VA, 2010

Recounting my memories from the three summers I spent on his magnificent farm in rural Virginia I realized again how much of a mentor he was for us rather than "just" a maestro. I will never forget what it was like to look up at the moment of Mimi's death in La Bohéme and see him in tears or to feel that incredible and liberating excitement during An American in Paris as he lead the ensemble with a huge smile and some of the most elegant conducting I have ever experienced on stage. Working with him I never felt commanded but engaged and appreciated. His eyes and hands communicated with every member of the orchestra in a way that one always had an urge to do their best. His passing is an incredible loss to the musical community and the void he left will never be filled. 

Some recent events made the passing of the maestro even more tragic and difficult to deal with. I simply cannot understand why for selfish and in now way just reasons people cause so much pain to each other and those non-humans who are responsible for thousands in grief have not even the desency to come forth and show their face. 

To all who mourn today: 

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Crude Oils

This morning we said farewell to our first wonderful host city, Warsaw. As we were being shuttled to the airport one of my fellows asked why it is that he did not see anyone jaywalking while staying in the city. The tour guide in response talked to us about how Polish mentality has changed over the past two decades and how people started paying attention to and gaining respect for each other and their surroundings. As an example she brought up pickpockets, who are now spare in Warsaw. Most, if not all of them are over 70, who spend most of their life having thievery as the only way to survive the hardships of Polish history. Suddenly, that wonderful positiveness that all Poles radiate so much made perfect sense. These people care for each other and they are genuinely happy - we have so much to learn from them! 

Campaign poster for the first semi-democratic election in Poland by Tomasz Sarnecki

One last thought on Poland and then I promise I will get started on Russia. 

The poster above could be seen pretty much all over town since we landed in Warsaw. On our city tour we asked our tour guide about it and she explained that the actor on it was popular in Poland right before the first semi-democratic elections were held in 1989 and that is why the democrats decided to use his image in their campaign. Upon further research I found out that the poster was actually designed by a young graphic artist named Tomasz Sarnecki, whose concept was that a Polish version of the sheriff (Gary Cooper) from the American western, High Noon, would be a perfect symbol of freedom and justice taking power for the first time in modern Polish history. The bottom reads: "High Noon: June 4th, 1989" and instead of a gun Gary Cooper holds a folded ballot with red letters ("ELECTION"). While the leaders of the democratic bloc were not too enthusiastic about the concept, over time it gained extreme popularity and soon became a symbol of the American democratization in the entire Soviet bloc. Pretty cool, ha? 

Onto Russia... 

Between the ages of ten and fifteen in St. Petersburg, I must have read more fiction and poetry—English, Russian and French—than in any other five-year period of my life. I relished especially the works of Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Alexander Blok. On another level, my heroes were the Scarlet Pimpernel, Phileas Fogg, and Sherlock Holmes. In other words, I was a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library.
— VN

Ever since I found out about us coming here this summer I have been beyond excited about visiting the old Nabokov House (now Nabokov Museum) at 47 Boshaya Marskaya. He spoke so fondly about this city and his time here and at the house, I knew something very special was in store for us there. I will talk more about Nabokov tomorrow after having visited the place not only the facade... I am sorry that I keep bragging about this, I am just so very excited!!! 

In front of 47 Bolshaya Morskaya 

So, getting through Russian customs and immigration wasn't half as bad as it was told to will have had been. The airport was super nice and modern and the immigration officers were friendly and helpful. As we were leaving the airport, we had a chance to see the old terminal building which I wish was open to tourists. It was a stunning sight, a flat concrete building with five (?) upside down cupcake bottoms of thick glass on top. These glass domes are a perfect representatives of the functional-decorational easthetics of Soviet architecture in the 60s and 70s. According to the main architect, Alexander Zhuk, the idea for the five glass domes came from the old soviet glass tumbler that was used in restaurants, bars, cafeterias and in pretty much every home. Legend says that he was out drinking with his friends and as he decided he had enough and announced his turning in, he turned a glass upside down on the table and the vision of the building appeared in his head.  My photo of this gem is not very impressive as we were speeding by and it was raining but it is still worth a quick look:

The old Pulkovo Airport terminal in Saint Petersburg, Russia 

Saint Petersburg looks as if Budapest and Venice were mushed together and stretched out. Having read so much about it in Russian literature I arrived with a lot of expectations and I must say it satisfied all of them, even the contradicting ones :)

The midnight sunset from the southeast corner tower of the St.Isaac Cathedral

As it is the white nights, our little group of 11 decided to go on a late night walking trip to the Saint Isaac Cathedral and observe the midnight sunset from the top. It was worth every step! We had a stunning view of the entire city in the slowly dimming light, it was extremely touching to experience the Earth's globe-ness this way. And, I am sorry, but I must: 

On the eve of the day on which Victor had planned to arrive, Pnin entered a sport shop in Waindell’s Main Street and asked for a football. The request was unseasonable but he was offered one.

’No, no,’ said Pnin, ‘I do not wish an egg or, for example, a torpedo. I want a simple football ball. Round!’

And with wrists and palms he outlined a portable world. It was the same gesture he used in class when speaking of the ‘harmonical wholeness’ of Pushkin.

The salesman lifted a finger and silently fetched a soccer ball.

’Yes, this I will buy,’ said Pnin with dignified satisfaction.
— Pnin, VN

I will have some funny stories tomorrow. For now, I will say goodnight with another Russian literary reference, please guess in the comments (two things to assume: 1. the picture was taken in Moscow, 2. the cat was giant)

Giant black cat shows up late at night at 24/7 Shawarma place, that also lists "Crude Oils" as a main dish on the menu


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Pierogi and Again

As I said before, Warsaw is an amazing city! It has everything that one would expect from a European capital: lavish buildings, shopping, tourists, traffic jams, etc., however, the negative connotations of all these are somehow missing. People are genuinely happy and their happiness is radiant. 

Our concert last night was a huge success in front of a packed house at the Polish National Philharmonic. We played three encores and after the third (Stars and Stripes) every single member of the audience got on their feet and clapped until we all escaped from the the hall. 

The Bard Conservatory Orchestra on stage at the Polish National Philharmonic

I must apologize for the lack of updates over the past two days, I am fighting off a cold and spent much of my time in bed. Here are, instead, a few photos to make up for what has not been said: 

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